Low-wage workers — a large and growing segment of the workforce — are drawing increased attention from policymakers, the business community, and officials at all levels of government. With labor market demand for low-wage earners continuing to grow, policymakers are trying to develop responses to a major challenge: how to raise household income for this group of workers in ways that are consistent with employers’ needs and labor market realities.
In 2001, MDRC and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices began an extensive examination of potential solutions and identified innovative programs under way in states and localities across the country. The culmination of these explorations is this report, which discusses the importance of serving the low-income working population and highlights many promising practices that take two broad approaches: (1) efforts that aim to increase job stability and career advancement and (2) initiatives that improve access to the range of work supports such as food stamps, subsidized health care and child care, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, many of which were expanded in the 1990s. The report also discusses state-level policy options and suggests principles to guide the development and delivery of services to low-wage workers.